The strength of a cryptocurrency is the share of global processing power it can muster in service of its ledger. An attack by a significant computational resource (botnet, mining pool, government supercomputer, etc.) could potentially reverse recent transactions or cause a fork of the currency. The reason the global share matters is that computational power is fungible, and may be used in service of any cryptocurrency.
The less computational power dedicated to mining a crypto, the more vulnerable it is to attack. Alt-coins that do not command as much hash power as Bitcoin would be first in line.
Processing power over time is governed by the price per computational unit and by the price of electricity. For example, a spike in electricity prices or transistor prices would increase mining costs, and therefore transaction fees, possibly disrupting the usability of the currency. A sudden drop in electricity prices or transistor prices would reduce mining costs, increasing the chance of attacks on a currency’s ledger.
Such attacks could be orchestrated, not necessarily to steal the underlying wealth of currency holders, but to accomplish secondary effects beneficial to the attacker. For example:
- A large investor in a particular crypto may attack a competing (smaller) crypto intruding in the space. This implies a first-mover advantage in the cryptocurrency space and stratification of crypto, with one per defensible economic niche. Eventually, the market may consolidate into one global crypto.
- Momentarily disrupt the functioning of a crypto at a critical moment in its development, for maximum PR effect, to spread fear & uncertainty to potential investors and adopters.
- Momentarily disrupt recent transactions to create uncertainty for retailers accepting the currency & consumers using it.
- Permanently disrupt or fork a smaller currency.
You would only need to bid on computing power for a short time to cause a major disruption. Miners are very sensitive to transaction fees, so would quickly respond to any change in market demand. Furthermore, cloud mining operations, and cloud computing in general, provide an easy way to quickly spool up computing power for a short time, disrupt the target crypto, and spool down, thus minimizing costs.
Alt-coins based on a permissionless, global blockchain are very vulnerable to this type of attack. Eventually, even Bitcoin itself may come under attack should there be a revolutionary development in computational hardware, exploited by a group of early adopters, or a government willing to throw massive fiat to kill it once and for all.
All “cryptocurrencies” based on artificial limits are inherently pump-and-dump schemes. If they were true free market currencies, the money supply would grow with demand. Instead, they are artificially restricted. Why? To create the illusion of limited supply and therefore expectation of future scarcity and speculative profit.
They are fiat currencies, based on nothing but this speculation. The Bitcoin price chart shows this. Bitcoin fanboys point to the skyrocketing price as a badge of honor, but all it shows is that it is a speculation, not a store of value. It has no price stability, and cannot be considered a “currency”.
In the short term, the price will keep going up for various reasons. Mining is getting more expensive and less profitable, driving out miners and restricting supply. Use as a pseudo-anonymous money transfer scheme is increasing on the dark web. A method of circumventing Chinese capital controls. An investment vehicle for Chinese with not enough local investment options.
But eventually, people will realize NOTHING holds up the value of Bitcoin. No petrodollar, no USG taxation. And it will collapse, as will the rest of the currencies that will inevitably fork off this one. This is even ignoring the major security and regulatory issues that plague Bitcoin.
Currency is a form of social credit. It’s an implied debt, that someone will pay off with goods & services in the future. This should be the basis of any cryptocurrency, not arbitrary and artificial limits on supply, and fancy math for its issuance.
Patents not necessary for innovation
Most patents are not litigated. That would be insanely expensive. What ends up is a policy of mutually-assured destruction, where big companies build up patent portfolios as a defensive measure. But this could be accomplished with a voluntarist patent system, where you lose protection of your patents, if you violate anyone else’s.
Most intellectual property is not patented. It is squirrelled away as trade secrets. It lies in the particular operations and tradecraft of millions of businesses. That means most of the innovative power of the economy is not dependent on the government-run patent system. Then we have to question whether the patent system itself is necessary.
Huge costs of patents
The supposed benefits of patents to innovators are the justification for the system. But the costs to innovators and startup businesses are overlooked.
Patent trolls build up massive patent portfolios and litigate against any startup in a particular field, even without merit, as the cost of defending is extremely high. This creates huge uncertainty in entrepreneurship and requires a lot of capital to start up. It is another example of government-mandated capital concentration.
Innovators are more likely to get hammered by a lawsuit, than to benefit from a patent that takes millions to grant and to defend. This means patents are not necessary for innovation and they actively discourage it. This obviates the very reason patents were created in the first place.
The costs greatly outweigh the benefits of the current patent system. And it certainly is not any better than a voluntarist system, that does not rely on violence for enforcement, but only mutal respect of participants’ intellectual property.
This post is an edited collection of my responses to James Corbett’s interview of Ken Shishido on Bitcoin.
Bitcoin was an interesting experiment in digital currency, and there will be many more, with improvements. It is definitely not a real currency though. The recent Bitfinex hack, wiping out 36% of account balances, on top of many previous hacks, show it’s less safe than even a fiat bank account.
Ken Shishido’s recommendation to put into Bitcoin “what you can afford to lose” is a reminder that it’s a speculation, not money. Still, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on developments with blockchain technology and new Bitcoin-like instruments that perhaps address the past issues with Bitcoin.
Bitcoin, exchanges, and security
Some make the distinction that hacks have targeted exchanges or warehouses, not Bitcoin itself. While the distinction between Bitcoin itself and exchanges or warehousers is important, the average person trying it out won’t necessarily understand this or its security implications. To them, the end-to-end process constitutes the solution, and most likely that will include an exchange.
You can get Bitcoin either by mining or by buying them on an exchange. Since mining is now incredibly expensive and technically challenging, the vast majority will buy on exchanges, which is a security risk, even if you don’t warehouse your bitcoin. In addition, most retail merchants accepting Bitcoin immediately liquidate receipts into dollars, making much of the market value of Bitcoin dependent on exchanges.
Even if you avoid exchanges altogether, you are still affected by these hacks. Since Bitcoin’s value depends so heavily on exchanges, a loss of confidence leads to a massive loss of value in the currency itself. This indeed happened after the Bitfinex hack.
There are also issues with the security of storing Bitcoin yourself, of transmitting them, the questionable privacy of a public transaction ledger (blockchain), and many other issues that the average person frankly will not understand or have the time to study. For the average person, the most secure currency is paper dollars, or gold/silver as a small inflation hedge.
There’s a lot of potential in cryptocurrency, both on the central bank side and the peer to peer side. I just don’t think Bitcoin is a particularly good solution, except maybe in certain use cases like international money transfers, that are plagued by high fees. But it’s a lot less than its hype.
Inflation Hedge vs Paper Money
In comparing Bitcoin to fiat or paper currency, Bitcoin advocates point to the inflationary history of paper money and its control by central banks. However, most modern currencies do not hyperinflate. Zimbabwe, Venezuela, the Weimar Republic, etc. are outliers due to unique political circumstances. Of course, that may change and eventually the US dollar will hyperinflate and collapse. But the key word is “eventually” – it may not happen for a very long time (or it may happen next year).
There are three things working against a dollar collapse, no matter how much they try to destroy it: 1. the oil market is priced in dollars, 2. it is required to pay US gov’t, fed./state/local taxes, 3. it is legal tender for the private US economy. So we’re talking about a backstop of many trillions of (current) dollars in value, something no other currency or country can match. So it’s unlikely to “collapse” anytime soon.
If we talk about collapse, Bitcoin lost 80% of its value in 2015, then recovered a bit, then recently lost 25% of its value. That’s a much bigger loss of value than is likely in the dollar, whose deprecitation is pretty stable over time. Bitcoin’s price may stabilize later on, but it’s not ready for prime time and definitely not a stable store of value.
Anyway, let’s be real. For most people these currency hedges don’t matter, because they don’t have much money to begin with. Liquidity is more important, to pay the bills, so dollars (or your local currency) are best. If you do have a lot of money, then sure, have some small hedges with precious metals, a little with Bitcoin, maybe some art, etc. They all carry their own risks. There is no such thing as a risk-free store of value.
UPDATE 08/19/2016: Bitcoin.org has warned that the code for Bitcoin itself may be hacked by government agents. Not even the currency itself is entirely secure!
- You don’t drain the swamp — the swamp drains you. The system swallows everyone whole, even someone as audacious as Trump.
- To get elected, you need support. To get support you need to make promises, which often will include statist actions.
- You need funding. People only donate big money if they will see a financial benefit, which usually involves a government privilege.
- Even small money makes you more susceptible to pressure, because it’s harder to say “no” to someone who has given you money, even if they want a statist policy.
- You have to get along with people: candidates, bureaucrats, civil organizations, unions, the media, voters, etc. That means not rocking the boat. Avoiding hard truths. Not being unpleasant. It’s hard to get the truth out this way. It’s like trying to put out a burning building with your hands tied behind your back.
- Every small compromise leads to a bigger compromise, and so on, until you are fully coopted into the system. If you accept the premise that a little bit of statist action is okay as long as your end goal is the removal of a bigger statist action, you will never be able to see that you are being coopted. In your mind, you are fighting the good fight, but in reality you are merely doing the work of the state, with a fun, but hypocritical, marketing plan.
- Look at the opportunity cost of doing politics. How effective is electoral politics, versus media or business? Lots of energy spent for meager results.
- If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Politics is dirty and savage. The people in it are assholes. If you get into the game, you have to play hard to win. That means eventually you have to become as nasty and back-stabbing as your competitors. How can you avoid it? By buttering everyone’s bread and going along to get along, i.e. statism.
- Winning is losing. If you win office, you take a salary funded by taxpayers. That is inherently unethical. If you forego the salary, you have to make it up otherwise. If someone funds you, then you are beholden to them, which usually means statism. If you are independently wealthy, then politics is an awful waste of your time. You’d be better off buying professional politicians, than being one yourself. Focus on making more money and funding media and tech ventures to benefit the liberty movement.
- Why hasn’t electoral politics tended to increased liberty, but only increased statism? What fundamental change will happen to reverse this trend? Politics is structured to produce an increase in state power. The simple act of being “in power” demands that one exercise power. If one’s only agenda is to refrain from using power, one will not have it for very long, as someone else will take it. Seeking power to restrain power is a performative contradiction.
Something is different in politics recently. No, not Trump. I mean the global nature of previously domestic politics. In the past, there was a superficial awareness of geopolitics and foreign leaders. But now we have the same emotional, visceral response to other countries’ politicians, that used to be reserved for one’s own. Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, Merkel, Wilders, Orban, Erdogan — have supporters and detractors across the world. There even seem to be the rough outlines of political alignment across boundaries, such as Nigel Farage stumping for Trump.
Social media has certainly contributed to this globalization of discourse. But there is a narrative structure to recent events. A disaffected, right-wing, populist, global “revolution” against the “establishment” is a unifying thread. Both sides of the political spectrum are engaging in cross-border alignments. Is there a deliberate unite-and-rule tactic happening, to drive us into yet another false, left-right paradigm? This time, it is pushing our consciousness to operate on the global level, rather than the national.
We are to believe that there is suddenly a groundswell of opposition to global governance, simultaneously, worldwide. This opposition is momentarily winning, but it is painted in the darkest terms, as something that must be defeated. Perhaps it is just one phase of the dialectic, to get us psychologically prepared for global governance.
Just as with national politics, there is a danger in engaging this new global politics. It is putting our faith, hope, time and energy into these pantheonic figures, completely removed from our lives, which might as well be cartoon characters on a screen. We ignore the local, the immediate, the personal. We should not buy into these false alignments and alliances, as if they are our saviors — a grand revolution around the world.
The real revolution is at home.
Twitter is altering language, not just on Twitter, but across all media. Everything is being compactified; short attention spans demand it. Among the benefits are brevity, efficiency, and impact. The downside is the destruction of nuance and precision. Dropped indefinite articles, sentence fragments, and an explosion of abbreviations and acronyms. The danger is a form of Newspeak, in which a decrease in expressiveness of language yields a constricting of thought itself.
Will our capacity for conceptualization be limited to the lowest common denominator or will this punchy format lead to communicating new ideas that otherwise would have collected dust in long-form academic essays?
The Trump phenomenon has splintered the libertarian movement into three distinct groups. The massive political realignment taking place has exposed fractures that have existed for a long time. How will these factions reconcile and will they constitute a unified movement in the future?
Left-libertarians – Typically DC beltway libertarians and wannabe respectable types. The biggest of the three groups, they are best represented by Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson. They value left social issues and are animated by anti-racism, gay marriage, and baking of cakes. They also think Trump is racist and hates women. Any good that may come from Trump’s challenge of the establishment is overshadowed by his being Pure Evil.
Paleo-conservatives – People like Lew Rockwell and Jeff Deist. They value nationalism and traditional right views on culture, immigrants, and political correctness. There is a silver lining to every one of Trump’s totalitarian or economically destructive proposals.
Voluntarists – The smallest faction, with people like Robert Wenzel and James Corbett. They see Trump as not much different from Hillary or any of the other candidates, and a potential disaster for the country and the libertarian brand. They tend to point out both the good aspects and terrible aspects of Trump’s proposals.